City officials join Zach Sowers' friends, family, supporters

Fundraiser held for crime victim

August 06, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

It's a street robbery that left a 27-year old man in a coma, his wife shaken and a community outraged - and yesterday it drew the attention of Mayor Sheila Dixon and her leading challenger in next month's Democratic primary election, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.

The victim, Zachary Sowers, was beaten near his Patterson Park home on the night of June 1. His attackers took his cell phone, his watch and his wallet, which held several credit cards. They left him lying between a parked car and the curb.

In a city where the fear of crime has become pervasive, according to a recent poll conducted for The Sun, and homicides could reach 300 by year's end, Sowers' beating struck a chord.

Dixon and Mitchell made separate appearances at Neighbors' Night Out, an event in which 24 bars, restaurants and other businesses agreed to donate up to 20 percent of their proceeds to assist in the Zachary Sowers recovery fund.

Dixon met with Sowers' family and friends at Regi's American Bistro in Federal Hill. She called the crime "unacceptable" and said street crime can deter people from moving into the city and drive current residents away.

"I want to do anything we can to avoid that," said Dixon, who wants to increase the size of the Police Department, enforce the city's youth curfew and increase family assistance offerings. "We have so many good things going on here."

After Martin O'Malley was elected governor, Dixon became mayor, ascending from the City Council president's post to fill out the remaining portion of his mayoral term. Last month, she asked for the resignation of Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm amid increasing criticism of their crime-fighting strategy.

Dixon's challenger, Mitchell, has promised to increase police salaries and fill vacancies in the ranks. He has won the endorsement of the city's police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. Last week, his campaign was stung by the disclosure that his father had stepped down as campaign treasurer after questions arose about his father's spending of campaign money.

"These types of events shouldn't happen in our city," Mitchell said of the attack, joining Sowers' wife, Anna, with friends and family, at Coburn's Tavern in Canton. Mitchell said he plans to thwart violent crime by increasing the number of police officers, and establishing gang units in each district. "It's good that we are celebrating Zach. But bottom line is, we shouldn't be here for these types of events in our city."

Dixon and Mitchell said their appearances were not politically motivated. An official who served as a spokesperson for Dixon protested the presence of a reporter at the event "in respect for the family's privacy."

"I'm the mayor of this city," Dixon said after the meeting with Anna Sowers. "I'm making sure that she is feeling safe. We're really praying for her."

Asked if his presence politicized the event, Mitchell said he had interrupted his seventh wedding anniversary to visit each of the participating businesses. He brought his wife and children along for part of the trip.

"We support the victims and their families," he said.

Zachary Sowers remains in a coma at Kernan Hospital. Four suspects - Arthur Jeter, 18; Wilburt Martin, 19; Eric L. Price, 17; and Trayvon Ramos, 16 - have been charged with attempted first-degree murder, robbery and related offenses.

Police say they were arrested after they used Sowers' credit card to rent two action movies. All four live within a few blocks of Sowers' home.

"I don't want the politicians just to talk about it and make it part of their platform," Anna Sowers told a reporter. "I want them to do something about it. It's people like me and Zack who will make Baltimore a better city. I should be able to walk two blocks to my car at night and feel safe."

Anna Sowers said she had not spoken with either Mitchell or Dixon before the fundraiser.

"It was good," Anna Sowers said about her conversations with Dixon, and with Mitchell, who was accompanied by members of the Fraternal Order of Police. "I told them the story. I told them I wanted an increased police presence in my neighborhood. I felt like I got a good response from Keiffer Mitchell. He had all the police people. I've worked with the police a lot because of Zach. That was good to see."

Anna Sowers and her group of family and friends, who wore black T-shirts to show their solidarity, were constantly greeted by well-wishers at each business they visited.

At Regi's, Anna Sowers was gently tapped on the shoulder by a stranger, who whispered in her ear, and then gave her a hug.

"It's very heartwarming," Anna Sowers said. "Good people live here. I'm thankful that people are so supportive. It is touching that from something so awful I still see so much good."

Russ Karpook, the stranger who greeted Anna, later said that he told her: "I never met you, but I love you. I pray every day for you. I am honored to have met you."

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